AAME is an arts council formed as a service organization for artists, arts organizations and other cultural endeavors throughout the Mountain Empire.


Several individuals are honored by AAME for arts achievements


The Arts Alliance Mountain Empire announces the winners of its second Arts Achievement Awards. The awards are designed to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the arts in the region. An awards gala is planned to honor the recipients.

The winners for 2016 are Amanda Aldridge, Nancy DeFriece, Michele Plescia, Bill and Diane Thomas and Betsy White.

The awards come from these categories: Artist-achievement in theatre, music, dance, visual arts or literary arts; Arts Educator-achievement in arts education in a college or university primary or secondary school; Arts Administrators-achievement in the management of arts institutions; and Arts Advocates-achievement in sustaining the arts through volunteering or financial support.

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A Gala awards ceremony is held Saturday, May 21 at the Holiday Inn in Bristol, Virginia, to honor the winners. Tickets are $100 for individuals, and tables for eight can be purchased for $600. For tickets, visit www.aame.info/gala or send a check to AAME Gala, Box 94, Bristol, TN 37621. For more information about the event, call 423-652-7462.

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If you have seen a production at Barter Theatre or Barter Stage II in the last 23 years, then you have seen the artistry of Amanda Aldridge. She is the resident choreographer and costume designer at the theatre.

Aldridge's early ambition was to be a dancer, but after Sarah Lawrence College, she moved to New York City to make her big break in the world of theatre. She landed her first professional job at Surflight Theatre, where she did 10 musicals in 10 weeks.

The event that changed her life was meeting a budding director, Rick Rose, during a summer repertory season at Canterbury Summer Theatre. Rose encouraged her to design her first show, "Picnic," since she had been working in the costume shop that summer as well. Back in New York City, Aldridge worked as a seamstress at Juilliard, learning skills from the industry's best designers. Her career then took her to the American Stage Festival and Merrimack Repertory Theatre, where she was the resident costume designer and choreographer.

In 1992, Rose and Aldridge came to Barter Theatre where they have been for 23 years. She has either choreographed or designed costumes-or both-for more than 160 Barter productions. She has worked on classical musicals like "Oklahoma" or "Singin' in the Rain" and has done experimental costuming for avant-garde musicals like "The Who's Tommy" and "The Wizard of Oz" (which had 1,648 costume pieces).

Last season Aldridge became a triple threat: she designed costumes, oversaw choreography and directed "The Marvelous Wonderettes." This season she has already designed a mermaid costume, clothes for a 10-foot giant, and many other fanciful costumes for "Big Fish." This fall she is looking forward to recreating the 1920s "Chicago" with fabulous costumes and a variety of dance styles. Aldridge's work has been featured in many industry magazines.

For most of her adult life, DeFriece has committed her volunteer time, business skills and financial support to sustaining and advocating for the arts throughout the region. DeFriece was the first woman to establish her own real estate firm in Bristol in 1977. Much of her success came from her strategy of "Sell Bristol first, and then you will have a house to sell." She would show prospective buyers what was "best" in Bristol, highlighting the arts organizations, nonprofit organizations, schools, colleges, hospitals and entertainment venues.

Her business acumen led her to encourage arts and non-profit organizations, not only in our region but also on the state level, to develop business plans and operate with endowments if they were going to succeed.

DeFriece was involved in the infancy of many successful organizations in the Tri-Cities: helping the Hands-On Children's Museum as a charter member, with start-up capital, and serving on its Business Council; as co-chair of the Autumn Chase Festival, helping it transition into the very successful Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion; because of her ties with Tennessee state government in Nashville, helping the struggling Birthplace of Country Music organization begin its development of the new BCMA museum; and as a member of the "Circle of Friends," helping to solicit more than a million dollars to pay off the indebtedness of Jonesborough's International Storytelling Center.

DeFriece has just ended a three-year term as the first woman president of the Board of Trustees of the Barter Theatre, helping that institution become more financially self-sustaining.

Of special note is that DeFriece was a member of the Tennessee Arts Commission for six years and the chair the last year. She made it her mission to educate the arts organizations in East Tennessee on how to better obtain the funds that the state commission has available. She is serving as vice-chairman of the Tennessee State Museum Commission, where she is helping oversee the building of a new state museum to showcase the state's priceless historical artifacts.

Plescia began her ballet studies at age 7 with Bristol Ballet's founder, Constance Hardinge. At age 8 she was selected by Maria Tallchief, founder of Chicago City Ballet, to receive a Ford Foundation scholarship to continue her dance studies. Plescia was admitted to Bristol Ballet's performing company at age 10 as their youngest dancing member. Through her years at Bristol Ballet she performed in Bristol Ballet's first production of "The Nutcracker" as Clara, and later as Arabian, Snow Queen, Marzipan, and Flowers. She also performed in Quatre Vignettes, Les Sylphides and the Don Quixote Pas de Deux.

Later in her career, Plescia attended Sullins College on scholarship as a dance major and was a member of Arlington Dance Theatre, a professional company in Arlington, Virginia, directed by Carmen Matte (former Prima Ballerina at the National Ballet of Washington D.C.). Prior to returning to Bristol in 2004, she spent 12 years teaching in the Chicago area.

Now, as Artistic Director, Plescia's love for Bristol Ballet and for the Tri-Cities area is apparent. She is dedicated to bringing the art of dance to as many students and audience members as she can through Bristol Ballet. In her 12 years as Artistic Director of Bristol Ballet, she has restored the organization from having only a handful of students in 2004 to a healthy and sustainable nonprofit arts organization that provides training, education and entertainment in ballet to young and old alike.

She has restaged "The Nutcracker" and has created several original works for Bristol Ballet, including the most recent, "Unbroken Circle, Bristol's Music in Motion." This production uses many songs from the 1927 Bristol Sessions, and has been heralded as locally historically important as well as entertaining.

Plescia was honored by MINDS WIDE OPEN: Virginia Celebrates Women in the Arts in 2010 for her talent, creativity, and important contributions to the arts in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Bill and Diane Thomas have had distinguished careers as music educators and artists in the Bristol area for over 45 years. The Thomases came to Bristol in 1970 to teach at Sullins College with Bill as choral conductor and Diane as staff accompanist. When Sullins closed in 1976, Bill and Diane served in the same roles at King College and later at Virginia Intermont College. Diane has also been accompanist for Emory & Henry College, Virginia Music Camp and District VII choruses.

Both Bill and Diane have been active members of State Street United Methodist Church since moving to the area. Bill was Director of Music at the church from 1970-2006 with Diane assisting with the children's and youth choirs.

Bill served as director of the Kingsport Symphony Chorus and for 26 Dogwood Playhouse and Theatre Bristol musicals. Diane accompanied the Symphony Chorus and the musicals, plus every Junior League Follies since 1973, for Tunes at Noon and Barter Theatre.

After Sullins College closed, Diane worked as an elementary music teacher in the Bristol Virginia Public Schools and then, for 19 years, as Choral Director at Virginia High School, during which time Bill logged hundreds of volunteer hours assisting her.

Bill is also a composer of sacred choral music and solos that were sung by adults and children during worship at State Street United Methodist Church. His "Requiem" premiered in 2000. Bill and Diane have supported countless music students over the years, with many going on to distinguished careers. The youngest of their three children is a professional soprano who has sung in venues both in the United States and abroad, and their influence has also reached their grandsons who are now participating in the performing arts in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

In her position as the Executive Director of the William King Museum of Art, Betsy K. White guided the museum through its formative years. She worked for two decades to bring exhibits of fine art to the greater Tri-Cities region. Through her efforts William King became the only accredited art museum in a 100-mile radius, thus having the security and climate-controlled galleries which have allowed the museum to showcase works by such celebrated artists as Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, Louis Comfort Tiffany and many others.

Additionally, White took on the project of documenting the decorative and functional arts in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, which resulted in the two books which showcase the rich artisan and artistic history of this region in the 19th and early 20th centuries: "Great Road Style: The Decorative Arts Legacy of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee" and "Backcountry Makers: An Artisan History of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee."

Under White's leadership, there was an emphasis on arts education at the museum. Thousands of children took classes at the museum, and the Van Gogh Outreach program delivered art education to tens of thousands of elementary students throughout the region. This program continues today, even stronger than ever.

White has been the president of the Virginia Highlands Festival several times, but especially during its 50th-anniversary year which included many special concerts and events and the publication of a history of the festival. She has been involved with Abingdon town commissions and boards for many years as well. She has served on the town's "Board of Architectural Review" and has consulted with the town officials on the management of the Abingdon's historical resources.

White has also been involved in several projects for Heartwood, the regional artisans' center. She is a member of the regional Cultural Heritage Commission, is the chair of its Cultural Assets Committee, and serves on the Executive Committee of Friends of Southwest Virginia. She has also been President of "Round the Mountain, the artisan network that supplies art and crafts for Heartwood to sell.

Winners of last year's AAME Arts Achievement Awards included Deanna Cole-Roberts, Charles Goolsby, Val Lyle, Richard Rose and Laura Ann Warner.

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